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February 15, 2017

In Testimony, Human Rights First Urges Congress to Protect Refugees from Becoming Trafficking Victims

Washington, D.C. - In testimony today before the Senate, Human Rights First’s President and CEO Elisa Massimino urged Congress to combat human trafficking by blocking any executive action that would leave more refugees vulnerable to exploitation in the global slave trade. Massimino is testifying today before a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on “Ending Modern Slavery: Building on Success.”

"We must recognize the close link between human trafficking and the refugee crisis. If we want to end modern slavery, we should be doing everything we can to reduce the vulnerability of the refugee population, stated Massimino during her testimony. “[T]he president’s Executive Order on Immigration means that the United States is turning its back on the very individuals who are the most vulnerable to the scourge of modern slavery this committee has been working so hard to end.”

In today’s testimony, Massimino noted that those who fall victim to human trafficking are among the most vulnerable people in the world, including refugees who are fleeing from violence and persecution. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has described the current situation as the “biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time.” Host countries’ infrastructures are buckling under the strain, forcing refugees to rely on smugglers and treacherous migrant routes and border crossings as they search for protection. Even if they finally land in a refugee camp, these people remain at high risk for being trafficked. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has stated ten percent of the world’s refugee population is in need of resettlement, yet less than one percent are resettled.

President Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees, which was suspended last week by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, bans travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries for a minimum of 90 days, suspends the refugee resettlement program for a minimum of 120 days, and issues an indefinite bar on refugees who have fled Syria. The Trump Administration continues to defend the ban, citing national security concerns despite widespread opposition from national security and military leaders who argue that the ban makes America less safe. White House aides have said that the administration is pursuing several options to reinstate the executive order, including by drafting a new executive order written to withstand legal scrutiny.

The United States’ refugee vetting procedures are widely recognized as the most stringent in the world by former U.S. military leaders and former U.S. national security officials, who have served both Democratic and Republican administrations. 

"Over and over again, national security leaders from both Republican and Democratic administrations have explained that protecting refugees does not put us at risk. On the contrary, accepting Syrian and other vulnerable refugees makes us safer, by burnishing our global reputation as a humanitarian leader and supporting our allies in the Middle East who are struggling to host huge numbers of refugees within their borders,” added Massimino. "If our country is to be a global leader in the fight against human trafficking, we cannot turn our backs—at a time when they most need us—on the very people most likely to become its victims.” 

The testimony outlines actions Congress can take to combat trafficking, including: effective use of the funds authorized by the End Modern Slavery Act to combat trafficking globally and attract resources from other governments and private donors; increasing provisions in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to enable prosecutors to bring more traffickers to justice; intensifying the effort to enforce the Tariff Act ban on the importation of goods made with slave labor; fully leveraging the power of U.S. government contracts against goods and services provided with slave labor; and shielding the Trafficking in Persons report from political influence by passing the bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Menendez (D-NJ) and Rubio (R-FL).

For more information or to speak with Massimino, contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at margolisme@humanrightsfirst.org or 212-845-5269.

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